By: Ethan Harris
In 2008, my family moved from Detroit, MI to what was then, the small town of Augusta, GA. This was before the explosion of people moving here from the military, so there was only one densely populated part of the city. I was then eights years old. A key age in a young gay’s life. It was about the time I started to know I was not like the other guys. I didn’t play sports during recess instead I was a cheerleader on the side with the girls. I didn’t want to play with finger guns or even laugh at the other boys’ outbursts for laughs. I would rather be playing with the girls’; there is just a larger sense of comfort there. I didn’t have to worry about being too feminine, not liking what they do, or wanting to do the “girly” activities they enjoyed. I didn’t have to worry about the stupid, “why do you sound like a girl” or, “why are you only friends with girls” question. I never even had an answer because how do you put words to something you don’t even understand yet? How do you explain the warm pit in your stomach that grows when you feel the judgmental stares of a group of boys fall upon you? As a child, you can’t, so I just did what I thought what would make it stop and continue to not communicate with them.
This in turn just reinforced the harassment I would receive, digging myself deeper into a hole that shouldn’t have been dug in the first place. None of it was my fault, I was just doing what made me feel good about myself, and that was being myself. It was their own ignorance’s that led to their bullying. This cycle would slow in middle school, though I would still get the occasional slur tossed my way as soon as the straight boys learned them. They mostly left me alone after they couldn’t get a reaction out of me.
I lived by a “never let them see you cry” mantra. If I let them see that their words hurt me, it felt like they won. While I might be a slur, in every sense of the word reclaimed, I’m not a loser.
My freshman year of high school, something happened, the military base here was chosen to be the cyber command center for the government. In the next four years, we were going to have an estimated twenty thousand new people moving here for Cybersecurity alone. As more and more military children came, the atmosphere changed. Now when I drive around the city, I see more and more equality stickers or the “Coexist” one written in tons of different symbols, or just a big fat rainbow sticker stuck on a bumper. Many of them are accompanied by Army, Air force, or various other military stickers right next to them.
My coming out experience was so much easier than I ever thought it would be. By now the childhood bullies had left to different high schools, and I had found my witty, sarcastic voice. I was able to deflect the rare homophobic comments sent my way with a sharped-tongued response that made them back them up. Other than that, high school was a breeze. I wasn’t bullied or picked on. My school even started their very own Gay-Straight Alliance, and while we were lacking in the straight department of the club, the fact that it was a resource available to us made being out in the school that much easier.
Overall, I must consider myself very fortunate. I have a family and community that is extremely supportive, something other members of the LGBTQ+ community can’t always say is there for them. This privilege is something I acknowledge and pushes me to be such a prominent voice in my community so that all kids have a chance to grow up feeling safe and loved, to ensure they have a better tomorrow than our yesterday. No warm pits growing in their stomachs, only feelings of cool comfort.